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An open letter to our communities and a call to action

Over the past few days, Kelowna Pride Society has been listening to feedback from our communities about our response to the anti-trans and anti-2SLGBTQIA+ protests this week. We are hearing a collective voice sharing frustration, hurt, and disappointment that we did not mobilise our supporters to attend a counter-protest in response.

First of all, we wanted to be clear with all of you that we see you, and we hear you. We have taken all of your feedback very seriously, and wanted to ensure that we as a board gave ourselves the time to respond thoughtfully and purposefully. This situation presents us with a chance, we hope, to chart a new path forward, grounded in meaningful participation, and towards creating a more inclusive and safer city for us all - particularly for our trans communities and trans youth. We want to bring as many people as possible into that fight and journey.

Prior to the protests on Wednesday morning, KPS was in consultation with a larger network of community-based organizations in Kelowna and a collective decision was made to not call for a counter-protest. Two online votes were also held which informed community responses. We, and others in the community, shared concerns about asking people to attend, given that safety risk was high, and there was not enough time to organize safe protective supports needed.

When KPS calls on people to attend an event, it signals that it is a safe place to be for everyone in the community. We receive questions from parents, for example, asking if their children will be safe from potentially violent anti-2SLGBTQIA+ protestors if they attend events. In the case of the Drag Story Time protests earlier this year, our assessment was: yes – we have received no credible threats. In this case, our assessment was: we are just not sure.

Perhaps most of all, we based our collective decision on the information we had at the time. When we first consulted with other groups, we understood this would be a small - but potentially very hateful and volatile - turnout of hostile protestors. The situation also evolved very quickly.

Ultimately, together with others, we thought it would be more effective to focus on advocacy and a larger scale event following the protests, in which we could assure community safety, acceptance, and affirmation. And to issue a statement which supported people with safety resources if they did want to counter-protest.

On Wednesday, we actually faced a well-organized and well-attended rally, spearheaded by a new combination of religious fundamentalist and right-wing extremist groups, and with substantial organising offline and through new campaigning networks.

The protest was unlike anything that has previously happened in Kelowna against the trans and broader 2SLGBTQIA+ community, ever. The hateful speech we encountered at the rally - including in speeches on stage at Stuart Park - was incendiary and chilling.

In some ways we are grateful that more people were not exposed to the abuse counter-protestors received. But we also keep thinking: we should have known more, checked in with each other better, listened more, been quicker to change direction. It is easy to see in retrospect how Kelowna’s trans communities would have felt further abandoned. We continue to reflect on whether we made the right decision, and on balance, we think we probably should have called on our communities to counter-protest, in a way that acknowledged the safety risks, or worked creatively around them.

But these are tough decisions to make, especially quickly, and also given that we are a small group of volunteers. We do this work not for profit, but because we genuinely care about the community.

Separately, we feel it is relevant to share some key details regarding some recent changes to our board, which we were getting ready to announce prior to these events. Within the last month, KPS has appointed two new co-chairs for the coming calendar year. Given the current conversation, we feel it is also relevant to note that both of our new board leaders are trans, and have been involved in trans rights campaigning and community support for many years.

Our co-chairs have been deeply involved in the community response to this event behind the scenes, as well as present at the event itself. One of our co-chairs could not attend due to personal safety concerns. Our other co-chair made the decision to attend the counter-protest and immediately expressed concerns when witnessing a larger turnout than expected. The event turned out to be hostile, abusive, and, for those in attendance, deeply traumatic.

With these leadership changes, we would also like to re-set the tone and our expectations for how we speak with one another, particularly in online spaces. We want to create community platforms where people can voice their concerns and express disagreement. Having these difficult conversations makes our movement stronger, allowing us to hear and understand multiple perspectives that may be outside of our own lived experiences. At the same time, we need to maintain a level of respect within these spaces. This means that we will not tolerate lateral violence, for example, in the form of shame-based comments on our social media channels. We understand that people are angry, and we are too. However, we all receive enough shame, blame, and hateful comments from those trying to invalidate our existence, the last thing we need is to turn this anger inwards on each other and ourselves.

Lastly, we wish to express our understanding of the broader historical context that our newly appointed co-chairs are stepping into. We are committed to learning, listening, and bringing everyone together to ensure that KPS is continually evolving with the needs of our community. We hear community concerns that KPS has not historically been well-represented in two-spirit and trans spaces. It is our top priority as newly elected board members to better understand these issues and drive further support towards two-spirit and trans community initiatives. Plans for this have already taken off over the past month as our new co-chairs are currently working on a community consultation process that will help guide our strategy for the coming years.

We will be updating soon concerning opportunities to participate in this process. We will also be announcing a call for applications for new board members this fall.

Thank you for taking the time to read our response. Please be patient with our board members in issuing individual replies, as we are a small board of volunteers, currently running at reduced capacity.

Last but by no means least, we are working together with other groups to fight back as a community and a city:

Please save the date of Sunday 15 October.

This will be a chance to come together to Rally Against Hate and Protect Trans Rights.

We hope you will join us, and bring as many people as you can!

Please stay tuned for more...

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